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Book Reviews
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Anything But Okay
by Sarah Darer Littman

-You can find this book here.

Stella Walker’s brother, Rob, is home from Afghanistan.

But Rob, a U.S. Marine, has changed—he’s moody, angry, and anything can set him off. His parents are worried and focus all their attention on him. Stella isn’t talking to anyone about what’s going on at home—not even her best friend, Farida. Their local mayor is running for governor of Virginia, blaming immigrants and refugees for the state’s economic problems. Some of Stella’s classmates agree with the mayor—and when his son, Chris, decides to run for class president, Farida encourages Stella to run too. Although Farida, a Muslim Iraqi-American, wanted to run herself, her parents worried about her safety in the current political climate. When Rob becomes angry and assaults a boy who is bullying a Sikh teen, not only does he face charges, but the Walker family is targeted by hateful elements in the community who believe they support “terrorists.” Farida and her family are also drawn into the controversy. Which “truth” will the community believe? Littman (Fairest of Them All, 2017, etc.) skillfully reveals Rob’s thoughts and feelings as a veteran desperately waiting for help from the VA, while also intertwining Stella’s perspective as a white girl who is growing in her understanding of her own identity.

With well-developed characters, Littman explores growth and personal relationships alongside pain, mental illness, and social issues—showing how people can come together to heal. (Fiction. 12-18)

Review found here.

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Dear Evan Hansen
by Val EmmichSteven LevensonBenj PasekJustin Paul

-You can find this book here.

Awkward high school senior Evan Hansen has zero friends and a debilitating mixture of depression and anxiety. As a coping mechanism, his therapist assigns him to write letters to himself to reframe his thinking. When one of those letters is found on the body of Connor Murphy, a loner classmate and brother of Evan’s crush, Zoe, the Murphys assume that Connor addressed a suicide note to Evan and that the boys were secretly friends. Evan does nothing to dissuade this notion, and soon his lies build as he experiences belonging and acceptance for the first time. But as his anxiety winds ever tighter and others notice loopholes in his story, Evan begins to unravel as he fears exposure. Evan’s first-person narration is simultaneously sympathetic and frustrating, female characters feel underdeveloped, and the story’s representation of mental health issues is at times underwhelming. Inserted interludes of Connor’s ghostly first-person, post-death perspective provide marginal insight into his character, although it is here that readers learn of Connor’s fluid sexuality. Whether or not they’ve seen or listened to the musical, many readers will latch on to the story’s message that “no one deserves to be forgotten.” Evan presents as white, and other major characters are African-American and Latinx.

Without the rich music and stage performance it’s a middling story with themes better handled elsewhere; impeccably timed for the musical’s national tour, however, teens will clamor to read it. (Fiction. 14-18)

Review found here.

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                             TESS OF THE ROAD by Rachel Hartman

Tess of the Road    
by Rachel Hartman

-You can find this book here.

There are three Dombegh sisters: naughty Tess, perfect twin Jeanne, and famous, talented older sister Seraphina (of Seraphina, 2012, and Shadow Scale, 2015). Now 17, haunted by past mistakes, immersed in self-denial and the need to follow “proper” behavior, white Tess—who once befriended lizardlike Quigutl and secretly attended lectures—is miserable. After drunkenly punching her new brother-in-law at Jeanne’s wedding, Tess dresses as a boy and takes off. She travels across Goredd and Ninys in search of a Quigutl prophecy and her own purpose in a sometimes-episodic tale narrated in descriptive, sharply observant third-person prose. Angry, bitter Tess has reason for her feelings but is not always easy to walk with, and the slow reveal of her past makes for a compelling read on the ways in which girls—in the quasi-Renaissance Goredd and also in the real world—are taught to take blame on themselves even when others are culpable. Fortunately, the Road has answers (“walk on”), and by the end Tess has faced her past and can look forward to another volume of adventure, discovery, and changing her world.

Like Tess’ journey, surprising, rewarding, and enlightening, both a fantasy adventure and a meta discourse on consent, shame, and female empowerment. (dramatis personae, glossary; not seen) (Fantasy. 13-adult)

Review found here.

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